The history of the SPORTS `N SPOKES Junior Athlete of the Year

Since 1986, SPORTS `N SPOKES (SNS) has recognized the athletic achievements of junior athletes with the SPORTS `N SPOKES Junior Athlete of the Year.

SNS founding editors, Cliff and Nancy Crase believed that there needed to be an award that recognized the passion, dedication and sportsmanship of the junior athletes competing across the country.

The Junior Athlete of the Year Award was based on Paralyzed Veterans of America’s (PVA) Jack Gerhardt Athlete of the Year Award, an award Cliff earned himself, along with many other prestigious accomplishments. Cliff understood firsthand the many hours young athletes spend training and competing and working to be the best at what they do. He also understood that above all else, they simply want to compete and be athletes. The SPORTS `N SPOKES Junior Athlete of the Year Award was created to recognize just that ­– the young athlete.


The first SPORTS `N SPOKES Junior Athlete of the Year Award was presented to Luis Betts, 14, at the third Junior National Wheelchair Games in June 1986.

Betts beat out runners-up Sara Noel Barker and Anthony Lara, but not solely for displaying top athletic performance. Nominees are also judged based on their contributions to their schools, communities and their sportsmanship and leadership qualities.

In 1993, SNS presented two first-place awards for the first time in its history, but it wouldn’t be the last time. Shannon Morrisey of Kansas and Feike Waque of Holland took home the award in 1993, and in 1995, Ashley Hovey of Colorado and Tyler Byers of Washington both won. It would be eight years before we saw duel first-place winners but in 2003, Mia Ives-Rublee of North Carolina and Kevin Hosea of Ohio won.

For much of its history, the SPORTS `N SPOKES Junior Athlete of the Year Award has gone unchanged. Mimicking the adult award counterpart, from 1986 – 1998, the junior award was a sturdy wood and bronze plaque with raised inscriptions bearing the name of the recipient. In 1999, and for reasons unknown, winners only received a framed certificate.

By 2004, the engraved silver platter made its debut and for 17-years, was the traditional award for young athletes. To help make winning a bit more appealing and noteworthy, additional prizes were added to the mix that included a complimentary subscription to SPORTS ’N SPOKES, having their photo on the cover and a custom-built wheelchair.

In 2019, SNS started the SPORTS `N SPOKES Education Scholarship in the amount of $1,500. While it’s not a huge amount in the big picture of educational costs, it was the hope that the scholarship could be used to help offset some costs.

In 2021, after 17-years of awarding silver platters, a newly designed award was presented to Zachary Carter during the closing ceremony of the 2021 Move United Junior Nationals in Denver, Colo.

The new award, designed and made by our very own SNS photographer, Christopher Di Virgilio, was created in the hopes of being more “youth” oriented and help brand the SPORTS ’N SPOKES Junior Athlete of the Year into a more recognizable award within the young wheelchair sporting community. 

Today, the SPORTS `N SPOKES Junior Athlete of the Year is presented at the closing ceremony of the The Hartford Nationals, formerly known as the Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals.

Nominations open in January of the calendar year and close on June 15 of the current year. Athletes must be age 21 or younger prior to June 15 of the calendar year.

Those interested in nominating an outstanding young athlete should fill out the nomination form.

Thanks to Cliff’s passion for sports, his desire to show the world that people with disabilities are capable of accomplishing great things, his treatment of athletes with disabilities and for providing a voice for people with disabilities, SPORTS `N SPOKES continues to be the premier resource for wheelchair sports and recreation.

If you know an outstanding young athlete, nominate him or her today.


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